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Life Arts    H4'ed 8/11/21

Book Review: 2034:A Novel of the Next World War

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2034: A Failure of Imagination

by John Kendall Hawkins

It's all happening.

Weeks upon weeks of the MSM reporting on fires in Europe, Australia, California, and even the Arctic. Fires brought by drought. Fires brought on by ripping out mother trees and their forest floor-moisturizing effect. Hot domes on their way. A pandemic fighting back against the vaccine. Water shortages and skirmishes. The oldest tree on the east coast (Millennia old) at risk of drowning by rising seas. An insect apocalypse; locusts from sea to sea. Reproducing robots. The return of 'spontaneous combustion'. Three-year-old scientific reports saying we've got 20 years left, if we do nothing (we've done zilch). And, old wizened Noam Chomsky adding to climate change the species-threatening onset of democracy's demise and renewed threats of a nuclear winter. All combined, leaving us at Defcon 4 (scroll down) and 100 seconds to midnight on the Doomsday clock:

This is the rolling pearl harbors that we've been told to expect for awhile now, most recently by Admiral James Stavridis in a webinar at The Cipher Brief, where he explained to colleagues and journalists where he suddenly goes,

...news flash, there are going to be additional pandemics.

That would be bad enough, but he'd already spent many minutes owning that climate change is having its way with us, and that we might have an Ice Station Zebra situation -- maybe literally -- up in the Arctic as ice continues to melt and open up new oil fields to exploit, if the Russians can be moved off the ball. Added to the future drama the Admiral envisages up North, he notes, "China has 16 significant icebreakers. They very much see themselves as an Arctic nation." We look at each other confusedly, and I'm the only one in the room.

But this is a review of the Admiral's new book, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War. (He "co-wrote" it with Elliot Ackerman.) The players are the US, China, India and Iran. On March 12 2034 (aka, 3-1-2-2-0-3-4), the John Paul Jones, and two other US warships, the Carl Levin and Chung-Hoon, are on "freedom of navigation patrol"; i.e., a routine provocation-cruise through the waters off the Spratly Islands. The water is pacific and perfectly calm. The limited omniscient narrator (irony, right?) tells the reader:

Passing through the much-disputed Spratlys with her flotilla was the legal equivalent of driving donuts into your neighbor's prized front lawn after he moves his fence a little too far onto your property. And the Chinese had been doing that for decades now, moving the fence a little further, a little further, and a little further still, until they would claim the entire South Pacific... So... time to donut drive their yard.

Even so, the donut drive is meant to be without incident. But the Chinese are armed and lying in wait for the American flotilla.

They spot We'n Rui, a Chinese trawler, on the starboard horizon engaged in fighting a fire. Ordinarily, protocol requires that the US call for assistance for the boat in distress and continue on their donut drive. But the fleet Commodore Sarah Hunt, "affectionately known as the 'Lion Queen,'" suspects something's not right. JPJ's captain and commander, Jane Morris, "the only other female in command," stands beside her and guides her, each smoking a now-legal Cuban cigar, talking about how the scene would have gone down had they been men instead. The implication is that a man in command would have observed protocol, but the ever-observant Hunt notes to an alarmed Morris,

"We've got a ship in duress that's sailing without a flag and that hasn't sent out a distress signal. Let's take a closer look, Jane. And let's go to full general quarters. Something doesn't add up."

And so, they move in, investigate. Board with resistance. "Arrest" the crew. And discover in a compartment at the stern of the trawler a gizmo with "racks of blinking miniature hard drives and plasma screens." Oh-oh.

The sailing protocol they have observed requires that they make their way through the straits as expeditiously as possible -- the sailing through is the mission and the message. But, on this occasion, the arrest and ship search take time and lead to a Chinese fleet, headed by the carrier Zheng He, a ship "as formidable as anything in the US Navy's Seventh Fleet," being alerted and closing in. Hunt learns that the trawler originated from Quanzhou in the Taiwan Strait. The commander of the Zheng He (Zheng He was a wide-ranging mariner and eunuch during the Ming Dynasty), Rear Admiral Ma Qiang, demands that the Americans release Chinese sailors. Hunt refuses. Suddenly, we have an international incident. The Chinese can't handle this 'chaos' in "their" waters. Mousy tongue roars at the Lady Lion, as it were.

Meanwhile, third-generation pilot Major Chris "Wedge" Mitchell is flying an F-35, with all its newfangled on-board navigation computer system, fifty nautical miles west of Bandar Abbas, the main regional Iranian naval base. He's trialling "a new electromagnetic disrupter" that acts as a stealth shield. He's "bored" with the jet's bling. He recalls buddies joshing with him. The narrator tells us, "That's how he'd gotten his call sign, 'Wedge': the world's first and simplest tool." He's a tool, alright. He upsets command and Lockheed contractors when he switches from autopilot to manual -- for the thrill of "it." He drifts into Iranian airspace and, when he tries to re-engage the auto, he finds that his plane controls have been lost. the result of a hack. Suddenly, he's a hostage to the South China Sea's doings. The Iranians are in cahoots with the Chinese. Wedge is forced to land in Iran and is taken by the Revolutionary Guards, who laugh at his American impotence on the tarmac.

And this is the tension nexus. Ma says, Cough up the We'n Rui. Hunt replies, Nuh-uh. Ma goes, Here comes a torpedo. Hunt gulps and kinda wishes she had the attack submarine Michelle Obama there to protect her. But she doesn't. Boom! The Chinese take out the US fleet, and Hunt only survives because she's on the We'n Rui, all agape when it happens.

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Oceania.

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